Lack of local terminal number frustrates islanders

  • Apr. 27, 2007 6:00 a.m.

By Alex Rinfret-Exasperated islanders say they don’t understand why they can’t phone the BC Ferries terminal in Skidegate any longer, and why they are having to wait in line for hours and hours before boarding the ferry.
Tlell resident Penny Richardson travelled on the Northern Adventure last week, arriving home at 2 am the morning of April 20. A few hours later, her husband David realized he had left his eyeglasses in their cabin. Ms Richardson tried to make a quick call to the Skidegate terminal, but had to talk to someone in Victoria instead.
She attempted to explain her situation to the man who answered the 1-888 line, but she said he hung up on her when she insisted that she needed to talk to someone in Skidegate.
She tried again, and this time spoke to a woman who told her that BC Ferries has a policy that members of the public can no longer phone the small northern terminals, so the staff don’t get overworked.
“It just makes no sense to me,” Ms Richardson said. “Their job is to deal with the public.”
There are many situations when the 1-888 number will be of no use to islanders, she pointed out, such as when islanders have left something on the ferry or when we need to inquire about weather delays on the Kwuna.
“This whole system worked fine when we had a local number available,” she said. “It makes no sense. It’s just an exercise in bureaucracy.”
The woman in Victoria agreed to relay a message to the Skidegate terminal to call Ms Richardson about the missing glasses. Ms Richardson said she waited and waited, but no one called.
She finally heard back from someone on Monday (April 23). The glasses were not found.
Ms Richardson said she can’t be sure what happened, but thinks that if she had been able to talk directly to someone at the local terminal as soon as she realized the glasses were missing, they might have been located.
The entire incident has left her appreciative of local staff, and wondering if the new policies are going to result in lost jobs here on the islands.
Ms Richardson said she was also disturbed, while waiting to board the Northern Adventure in Prince Rupert, to hear ferry workers asking passengers if they were islands residents or not. If they answered yes, they received a loud lecture about how they should know better than to be late for check-in.
She said she is writing a letter to BC Ferries customer relations about her experience, and hopes other islanders who have had problems write in too.
“I really think the system, the way it sits, the customer relations factor has gone out the window,” Ms Richardson said. “And nothing is going to change unless people say something.”
Corrina Hornidge of Port Clements travelled off-island with her husband and two young children earlier this month. She had been looking forward to making the trip on the new ship, but the experience has left her eagerly awaiting the return of the Queen of Prince Rupert, the 40-year-old ferry which normally runs on our route.
Ms Hornidge said she was particularly concerned by two things. First, she missed out on getting a cabin even though she had made her reservation many weeks ahead and was on the waiting list. When she saw people who she knew had booked after she had getting cabins, she asked the purser what was going on.
Turns out that Ms Hornidge had told the reservations agent that she would prefer an inside cabin rather than an outside one when the agent asked, although she didn’t care all that much and simply wanted any cabin. However, because of her response, she ended up on the list for inside cabins. Because they were all booked, she got nothing at all, even though some outside cabins had been available for people on the wait list.
On her return trip April 19, the same thing happened, even though she had phoned specifically to ask that she be put on the list for any cabin at all. This time, however, she did end up with a cabin.
On her way to Prince Rupert April 12, she boarded the ferry at around 1 am after waiting for hours (she’d been informed that everything was on schedule and to be at the terminal at 10 pm – only to find the ferry hadn’t even arrived yet). After waiting in vain for a room, she settled in the main lounge with her two children and tried to get to sleep – only to be awoken by a movie starting to play. She went to the purser’s office to ask them to turn it off, as it was 2 am and it looked like everyone in the lounge was sleeping. The movie was turned off but started again just a little while later and played its entire length.
Ms Hornidge said she couldn’t understand the decision to show a movie in the middle of the night, especially given that there is pretty much nowhere else to sleep on the new ship if you don’t have a cabin.
“I’ve lived here all my life, I’ve been on BC Ferries hundreds of time and I have never been as frustrated as that trip out,” Ms Hornidge said.
It wasn’t all bad. Both women said parts of their trip were positive, with Ms Richardson saying the cabin bunks are extremely comfortable, and Ms Hornidge saying she appreciated the announcements throughout the voyage warning passengers about upcoming rough patches, and telling them how long it would be rough for.
Other islanders told us this week that the Northern Adventure definitely handles Hecate Strait differently than the QPR and that its motion induces seasickness, with one calling it a “cork” and another saying her trip was a “barf fest”.
Another caller said she made the crossing in rough weather and that by the time the ship arrived in Skidegate, it was difficult to find a washroom that didn’t have an “out of order” sign on it due to the messes inside.

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